July 3, 2008

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

My review from The American Conservative:

The medievalist and popular theologian C.S. Lewis began publishing his seven fantasy novels for children, The Chronicles of Narnia, in 1950, four years before his close friend and Oxford colleague, the philologist J.R.R. Tolkien finally released his Lord of the Rings trilogy. Tolkien, who had painstakingly crafted an immense backstory for his older and more obsessive audience, found maddening Lewis's debonair approach to fantasy world concoction, protesting, "It really won't do, you know!" Thus, while sales for both series have reached nine figures, Tolkien's has inspired the larger cult.

The Lewis-Tolkien relationship /rivalry lives on in blockbuster movie adaptations. The success of Peter Jackson's "Rings" movies, which remain this decade's great cinematic achievement, prompted Disney to set another New Zealand filmmaker, Andrew Adamson, co-director of the smirky "Shrek," to work filming "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."

The fortuitously named Adamson's 2005 movie about two "Sons of Adam," Peter and Edmund Pevensie, and two "Daughters of Eve," their sisters Susan and Lucy, who stumble into Narnia, a land of "Talking Beasts" out of The Wind in the Willows and centaurs and dwarves from pagan myths, might have been rapturously acclaimed if it had preceded "Rings." "The Lion" was certainly a competent and respectful adaptation that earned a lucrative $292 million domestically.

Admiral J.R. Jellicoe, commander of Britain's Grand Fleet during WWI, had to bear the knowledge that "he was the only man on either side who could lose the war in an afternoon." The directors who launch franchise series, such as Adamson and Chris Columbus, who successfully kicked off the "Harry Potter" movies, labor under the awareness that they can blow a billion dollars in potential profit. Recently, director Chris Weitz helped sink New Line Cinema, maker of "Rings," by earning only $70 million in America with his $180 million "The Golden Compass," the first of a planned trilogy based on Philip Pullman's secularist anti-Narnia series, His Dark Materials.

Adamson's "Narnia" sequel, "Prince Caspian," follows the path blazed by both Jackson's and Columbus's second installments by being more violent, intense, and well-crafted, at some expense in charm. Like "The Two Towers" (the best of the three "Rings"), "Prince Caspian" is a war movie. It doesn't quite measure up to "The Two Towers" as a heroic epic, but, then, what does?

In "Prince Caspian," the four Pevensie children are called back to restore Narnia after an invading race of humans, the Telmarines, have ethnically cleansed it of its talking animals. Like Hamlet, the young Telmarine Prince Caspian has lost his rightful throne to his usurping regicide uncle. He must now fight for his life by allying with the surviving creatures and the Pevensies. Adamson gives the Telmarines Spanish accents, which leaves the prince sounding rather like the Spanish swordsman in "The Princess Bride" who repeatedly challenged: "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

Lewis would have liked the accents because the Spanish were so ardent in their quixotic chivalry, and Lewis, who was wounded on the Western Front in 1917, loved chivalry. As he wrote in Mere Christianity, "the idea of the knight - the Christian in arms for the defence of a good cause - is one of the great Christian ideas."

While lacking the Rings' nerdish grandeur, The Chronicles of Narnia are, despite Tolkien's complaints, far from simplistic. Every critic notes that Narnia's liberator, the majestic lion Aslan, is a Christ-figure who gives his life in the first film to save sulky little Edmund, and then comes back from the dead. (This left many reviewers of "The Lion" nervous about being exposed to subversive Christian indoctrination.)

Yet, few have observed that Lewis played a more complicated allegorical game, blending in pagan myth, as Dante had. For example, the kingly Aslan, whose voice is aptly furnished by the formidable Liam Neeson (who sounds more like Jehovah than Jesus), makes for a peculiarly imposing savior in contrast to the crucified Christ familiar from Michelangelo's Pieta or Grunewald's Isenheim Altarpiece.

Planet Narnia, a new book by the Lewis scholar Michael Ward, the chaplain at Peterhouse College at Cambridge, advances the plausible theory that the immensely learned Lewis modeled each of his seven Narnia novels on the temperament of one of the seven planets of Greek astronomy, calling them "spiritual symbols of permanent value." The Lion, which introduces the jovial Aslan, is dedicated to Jupiter, while the martial Prince Caspian belongs to Mars.

Rated PG for epic battle action and violence.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

"As he wrote in Mere Christianity, "the idea of the knight - the Christian in arms for the defence of a good cause - is one of the great Christian ideas.""

One thing about Lewis is that he cared greatly for aesthetics and imagery but not so much for analysis or facts. This explains his pitiful and contradictory apologetics in Mere Christianity, as well as his fetishism for the image of a brave Christian knight going off to do battle with... whatever.

testing99 said...

Anonymous, you're not a medievalist.

Therefore, the background, that Medieval Europe was beset by enemies all around, is lacking. From the South, and the East, were the Arabs, and then the Turks and the Mongols. From the North, the Norsemen, pagans all. Europe was beset by enemies, basically the punching bag at will (with Spain occupied and most of Southern France, Southern Italy, and ALL of Sicily). True story -- SICILY was fought over by pagan Norsemen and Muslims and Italians. Yes this is true.

As far as WHY the Golden Compass failed, it's because of Bob Shaye's arrogance in deciding HE could out-Peter Jackson Peter Jackson. "Furious D" at dknowsall.blogspot.com has covered this well, (I'm not him) and you should read what he posted.

Basically, Shaye first tried a lame-ass new age fantasy (the Last Mimzy) then tried Pullman's atheist reply to Narnia. Which tanked big time -- a girl protagonist, who doesn't do anything, with no real Christian themes (in fact, pagan ones) and "God" as the enemy. Most of the time, nothing really happens in the movie. So no wonder it failed for young men looking for adventure (who are the ticket buyers for these movies).

Hollywood doesn't even know it's own business. They're total idiots. Monkeys could run the place better.

Topiary Utopia said...

Given his penchant for pagan motifs, I wonder why Lewis didn't become a catholic like Tolkien (who played an important part in Lewis' conversion). After all, Catholicism is more "pagan" than either Anglicanism and Protestantism.

Maybe, unlike Tolkien, he was afraid of being Catholic at that time and place.

Anonymous said...

Lewis wasnt just any old Protestant, he was from Northern Ireland. For him a switch to Rome might have been a step too far.

Steve Sailer said...

That Lewis didn't go all the way to Roman Catholicism has a beneficial aspect on contemporary American evangelism, which tends to be aesthetically anorexic, giving them a guide to the grand traditions of Western civilization.

It's reminiscent of how "The Passion of the Christ" introduced many Evangelicals to the much richer palette of Baroque Catholic imagery.

R J said...

My impression is that despite Lewis's own religious allegiance, something like 95% of those who read his theological works today are themselves Catholic. Is this others' impression also?

Tom Piatak said...

Tolkien, who was instrumental in bringing Lewis back to Christianity from atheism, always felt that it was Lewis' Ulster Protestant background that prevented Lewis from leaving Anglicanism for Catholicism. If Lewis had lived long enough to see women priests and women bishops in the Anglican Communion, my guess is that not even Ulster would have prevented him from swimming the Tiber.

ben tillman said...

You misspelled Aslan in the last paragraph; "Azlan" is a little too close to "Aztlan" for my liking. However, I like what you have to say generally, and I may actually check this one out in the cinema. Thanks for the interesting review.

David Davenport said...

... the much richer palette of Baroque Catholic imagery.

A.k.a. idolatry and Mariolatry.

testing99 said...

CS Lewis was an Anglican. That's pretty "Catholic" ... just without the Pope. The split was over authority, not the form of the liturgy and theology. Henry VIII and all that.

So, his "pagan" traditions, which formed the basis of most European nations, is not surprising.

Steve -- Evangelicals in the US are mostly Baptists, and inherit a direct rejection of the sort of baroque, syncretic approach to Christianity that characterized the Catholic and Anglican Churches. Given social isolation in the Wilderness, like one scene Twain paints in Huckleberry Finn, this is not surprising. American Evangelicals saw the American Wilderness as the "New Jerusalem" for obvious reasons, and this explains much of their philo-Semitism. Since they also would explicitly view themselves as "Jews" in services and sermons.

David Davenport said...

Steve, when I go to isteve.com, I see on the right side an ad for:

www.InterracialRomance.com

Ads by Goooooogle ( Yes, six o's. )

Google sure does know where to place advertising!

Anonymous said...

My impression is that despite Lewis's own religious allegiance, something like 95% of those who read his theological works today are themselves Catholic. Is this others' impression also?

No. Lewis is something like the hidden imam of American evangelicalism and American Mormons quote him so much that he's jokingly referred to as the 13th apostle. 95% of those who read his theological works are Americans.

-Adam Greenwood

Lucius Vorenus said...

David Davenport: A.k.a. idolatry and Mariolatry.

Beat me to the punch.

testing99: American Evangelicals saw the American Wilderness as the "New Jerusalem" for obvious reasons, and this explains much of their philo-Semitism.

You're not "Spengler", are you?

Maybe "Richard Greene"?

Saint Middens said...

David Davenport wrote:
A.k.a. idolatry and Mariolatry.

Speaking as a pagan (Buddhist), why do you Christians/Jews/Muslims have a beef with idolatry in the first place? This God you worship must be conceived of differently by each of his worshipers, so how do we distinguish worship of the real God from idol-worship? Maybe the priggish anti-idolators are themselves guilty and should be stoned in accordance with biblical law, or exterminated Dalek-style.

Christianity simply is not consistent with conservative principles. How can you reconcile free will with behavioral genetics? Do you think that the relative poverty in Africa is due to free will? Even if you don't, how do you reconcile the idea of a "loving" God with population differences? The modern-day Christian answer to the dilemma is to engage in Marxist blaming. Contrary to what some say, this is not a modern day heresy. Abandoning conservatism is, in fact, the only way Christians can adapt to modern circumstances.

Creationism, original sin, and free will are lies. The wages of belief in them is death. Even if i am being a bit melodramatic here, I've never seen anything good result from them.

David Davenport said...

Steve, it's an old observation or mnaybe canard that visual modernism `a la Bauhaus is largely Protestant.

Also read H. L. Mencken's piece from about eighty years ago, "The Sahara of the Beaux Arts" in what Mencken derided as Anglo-Saxon America.

so how do we distinguish worship of the real God from idol-worship?

If God exists, He is not something man-made, that's how we know.

How can you reconcile free will with behavioral genetics?

Calvinist Christians never have believed in free will.

Do you think that the relative poverty in Africa is due to free will?

Predestination.

Even if you don't, how do you reconcile the idea of a "loving" God with population differences?

Calvinist Christians tend to have a rather Old Testament concept of Him, not so lovey-dovey.

Peepul, as the old preacher said, are sinners in the hands of an angry God, loathsome spiders dangling over the bottomless fire.

Fondness for the Old Testament is one reason why Calvinists and Congregationalists liken themselves to the original Children of the Covenant.


Creationism, original sin, and free will are lies. The wages of belief in them is death.

I don't think the Buddha would say that.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

An excellent review.

St. Middens, each of your questions would require at least a paragraph to answer, and many have been treated at book length. From this I conclude that you don't really want an answer to any of them, you just want to tell people how stupid they are.

testing99, I don't know where you get your information about American evangelicals, but it is not an accurate analysis. It contains interesting fragments, but your conclusions are far afield.

Tolkien and Lewis were among the few of the literary class who considered fantasy important, and thus greatly encouraged each other. Tolkien claimed that LOTR would never have been finished and published with Lewis's pressure and encouragement. Because of this alliance, each quite naturally assumed that they were trying to accomplish the same goals and write the same sort of novel. Tolkien, as Steve notes, thought Lewis's rapidly written works slapdash and lacking depth. Lewis believed Tolkien wasted a brilliant critical career and nearly wasted a literary one by tinkering so endlessly that things never got published.

Yet a retrospective look at their works reveals that they were not attempting the same thing, a fact obscured by their choice of fantasy as a genre and their individual closeness.

Svigor said...

A.k.a. idolatry and Mariolatry.

One of Catholicism's good points, if you ask me. From a WN POV - strip all that away and all you're left with is Hebrews.

BGC said...

"Adamson gives the Telmarines Spanish accents"

I think it works well; and it is refreshing to see a Hollywood movie where the baddies are *not* upper class English or led by an evil English aristocrat.

Using manic comedian Eddy Izzard for the voice of chivalrous mouse Reepicheep was inspired casting.

Seamus said...

Given his penchant for pagan motifs, I wonder why Lewis didn't become a catholic like Tolkien (who played an important part in Lewis' conversion).

Lewis's student Christoper Derrick wrote a whole book on this subject, "C.S. Lewis and the Church of Rome." IIRC, its conclusion is the same as the one by Tolkien cited above by tom piatak, to the effect that his Ulster background just wouldn't let him take that step. Frankly, I find that rather unsatisfying as an answer, but it's as good a one as we've got.

Saint Middens said...

david davenport wrote:

If God exists, He is not something man-made, that's how we know.

I don't understand this answer at all.

Peepul, as the old preacher said, are sinners in the hands of an angry God, loathsome spiders dangling over the bottomless fire.

Could it be that you in fact worship Cthuhlu but give him a different name? Another possibility is that Cthulhu is the real God and Yahweh is an idol. Here's a description of the Cthulhu religion:

[At the proper time], the secret priests would take great Cthulhu from His tomb to revive His subjects and resume His rule of earth....Then mankind would have become as the Great Old Ones; free and wild and beyond good and evil, with laws and morals thrown aside and all men shouting and killing and revelling in joy. Then the liberated Old Ones would teach them new ways to shout and kill and revel and enjoy themselves, and all the earth would flame with a holocaust of ecstasy and freedom.

Calvinist Christians tend to have a rather Old Testament concept of Him, not so lovey-dovey.

How does this square with the "for god so loved the world ...", bit of the bible?

I recall getting a "black D" in Sunday school which was the lowest grade.

SFG said...

Cthulhu is a reference to HP Lovecraft, who was so depressed by the absence of God in the universe he decided it was run by malevolent, uncaring tentacled monsters instead (in his horror fiction). Anyone finding out the truth about the universe would go nuts.

Frankly, I kind of agree with him. Except for the tentacled monsters bit, of course.

Joe said...

Knights, including chivalry, came from Persia (they weren't christian).

Anonymous said...

"Knights came from Persia..."

That's the kind of statement that a make a medievalist French major feel the degree was worth it.

Perhaps you are thinking of the Mithraic cult, or other gnostic groups. People often do.
Nowadays the catch words are "illuminati" or Masonic, but when I was studying this stuff it was just "gnostic"--secret knowledge, usually.
The Holy Grail, Merlin, King Persian. However, Knighthood took the form that we know it in Europe, among Europeans. The stories and standards had ancient roots and traditions in Europe. Most of what came from the "east" was embellishment, but to some extent, the idea of going in quest of a perfect ideal was the ancient Persian religion, Zoroastrianism, religion of light and dark, good and evil.

Blode said...

I do hope Joe will define "knights" for us, as he's using the term. I assume he's not talking about a gent with a big old cross sewn onto the cloth he wears over his armor....

Joe said...

I used the wikipedia entry. I don't know if they ever went on quests (but I wonder how often the European knights did), but they did have chivalry. That's enough for me.